Gunshot Tracking System Gets Approved in Dayton, Ohio

Police officials say around 80 percent of gun-related incidents are not being reported to authorities. The hope is that a $205,000 ShotSpotter contract will turn the table on gun violence and improve neighborhood safety.

by Cornelius Frolik, Dayton Daily News / July 18, 2019
Shutterstock/Andrew Williams

(TNS) — Gunshots ring out in some parts of Dayton and nobody calls the police.

This is troubling because gunfire can signal someone has been shot or that a crime has taken place, makes people feel less safe in their neighborhoods and the shooters often have or go on to commit other crimes, Dayton police said.

The Dayton Police Department plans to deploy new technology that listens for gunfire and rapidly tells police officers where the weapons were discharged.

On Wednesday, Dayton City Commission approved a $205,000 contract with ShotSpotter for the subscription-based gunshot detection system.

The targeted surveillance area will be around the North Main Street corridor, which has more gunshot-related calls than anywhere else in the city. The company providing the tech says most gunshots in cities are not reported to police.

The police department hopes to reduce shootings and gun violence, decrease fear of gun crime and make sure police are identifying scenes of shootings and collecting evidence that can help solve cases.

“About 80 percent of what’s actually happening isn’t being reported,” said Lt. Col. Eric Henderson, Dayton’s assistant police chief and chief of operations. “This will allow us to respond quicker, recover more evidence, render aid if someone is shot.”

ShotSpotter, which is based in California, will install audio sensors in a three-mile section of northwest Dayton. Each square mile will have 15 to 25 devices.

The targeted surveillance area was chosen after an analysis of gunfire-related call volumes.

Between 2012 and 2018, the West Patrol Division had 9,621 gunshot-related service calls, compared to 3,703 in the East Patrol area, police data show. An area around North Main Street was responsible for 3,138 of the gunshot calls in that time period.

About 85 percent of residents in the Fair River Oaks Council area around North Main Street are worried about gun violence in their neighborhoods, compared to less than two-thirds of residents citywide, according to a 2018 city survey.

More than 90 agencies in communities across the country use ShotSpotter, and once deploying the technology, they typically find there are far more gunshot incidents than what is being reported to police, Henderson said.

Dayton commissioner Matt Joseph said he looks forward to police educating and familiarizing the community about the tech.

“I’m excited about this,” he said.

Kegan Sickels, president of the Dayton View Triangle Federation, said his neighbors are concerned about police staffing levels in the northwest corridor.

He said they are worried that police will not be able to maintain the same presence if they are responding to a large number of shots fired incidents in the targeted coverage area.

“Dayton View Triangle is one of the safest, if not the safest neighborhood, in the northwest,” he said. “We are afraid that we will be forgotten when this project goes live.”

During community listening tours, the Dayton Police Department heard from kids who said they hear gunshots but never report them, and neither do their relatives or anyone else they know.

Reducing gun violence is a top priority of the Dayton Police Department, which has reorganized and implemented other strategies focused on crime hot spots to combat the activity.

Research has found that suspects in homicides and other gun-related crimes first test out their weapons, and every shell casing police recover is evidence with a unique signature that can help officers link together or solve crimes, Henderson said.

ShotSpotter has been credited with helping reduce shootings and gun violence in communities across the nation, including Cincinnati’s Avondale area.

“In our first year of going live, we saw a 42 percent decrease in shootings in our coverage area, and a 27 percent decrease in shootings overall in the district,” said Cincinnati Police Department Sgt. Jennifer Mitsch. “More importantly, the community is seeing our officers respond to shootings we would not have known about.”

Police have collected shell casings from shots fired incidents they learned about through ShotSpotter that have connected 120 separate incidents leading to ongoing investigations, Mitsch said.

Dayton’s use of the technology hopefully will deter gun crime by increasing the risk of being caught firing weapons in the surveillance area, said Dayton police Chief Richard Biehl.

“We have every expectation it will be in effective in identifying at-this-time unreported incidents of shootings or shots fired,” Biehl said.

When ShotSpotter’s sensors detect gunshots, a company employee in a 24/7 center will review the sounds to try to confirm it is actual gunfire and not another type of loud bang, like a firework or a backfiring car.

If gunfire is confirmed, notifications will be sent to police in about 30 to 60 seconds with the firing location, triangulated to within 82 feet of where it actually took place, officials said.

Alerts will be sent to police dispatch, in-cruiser mobile computers and possibly officers’ smartphones.

Right now, when gunfire is reported, there can be a significant lag between the actual time of discharge and when police show up.

Citizens don’t necessarily call 911 immediately or know the gunshot location, and it takes time for a dispatcher to type the information into the system and relay it onto police officers.

With ShotSpotter, detection and notification take place very quickly and police get an accurate location, officials said.

The city will subscribe to the monitoring and review service for one year after the system goes live, which is expected to happen by the end of January 2020, at the latest, officials said.

Police still needs the public to call and report gunfire in the surveillance area, in large part because witnesses are vital to investigations, Henderson said.

Dayton looked at gunshot-detection technology about a decade ago, but it was too expensive and ShotSpotter didn’t offer the monitoring and review service, which significantly cuts down on false reports, Biehl said.

Biehl said the tech today is more accurate and reliable and far more affordable.

©2019 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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